ROY — Since a 4-year-old was left alone on a school bus for nearly two hours last month, the Weber School District has disciplined the employees involved and made policy changes. The boy’s parents, however, are calling on the district to do more.
On Sept. 3, Miles Hulbert didn’t attend Midland Preschool, as his parents put him on the bus to do. Instead, he spent that time stuck in a five-point child harness inside a shutdown bus in 92-degree weather.
The bus driver and a school bus aide, according to the results of an internal investigation conducted by the district, neglected to check the bus for children and sanitize the seats as mandated by district policy. Both employees subsequently were moved to different bus routes, received a written reprimand and were placed on probation for one year, meaning they are required to review district policies and procedures and meet with a supervisor regularly.
“We were disappointed at the level of discipline,” said Daniel Hulbert, Miles’ father. “For how many things went wrong, and quite frankly endangering a child, a letter of reprimand and probation for that year wasn’t enough for what happened. And the fact that they’re still driving children around also was disappointing.”
In emails obtained through a public records request by the Standard-Examiner, Superintendent Jeff Stephens told Daniel Hulbert that the district has changed transportation policies so that employees will in the future be terminated for similar violations.
According to district spokesperson Lane Findlay, the district is currently paying bus drivers for an additional 45 minutes of labor to ensure they are adequately sanitizing their buses to limit the spread of COVID-19. The breach of both policies, Findlay said, left Stephens frustrated.
“He just felt like that’s their responsibility when they end their route — they should be abiding by that policy,” Findlay said. “He felt that when they don’t, they should be subject to termination.”
In August, both employees completed training — which included filling out a checking for sleeping children checklist — and signed an agreement which said they would be responsible for “walking through and checking for students after each run,” according to an email from Assistant Superintendent Lori Rasmussen to the Hulbert family obtained by the Standard-Examiner.
Findlay said the district does not plan on changing the training it administers to bus drivers but will reemphasize the importance of checking the bus for children prior to deboarding.
The district is also working to ensure the regular maintenance of cameras installed on all of its 156 buses. Footage was not available from the day Miles Hulbert was left on the bus because, according to the district, the camera had not been operational for a period of about two years.
“It’s baffling that that wasn’t already happening,” Daniel Hulbert said. “It seems like something that should have been checked. There were problems with ours, I’m guessing there were problems with lots of other cameras, unless we just got unlucky.”
Parents of other children in the same early intervention preschool program as Miles Hulbert have been upset about what they feel is a lack of communication and accountability from the district.
“We found out about it almost a month later, and not through the district, but through the news,” said Whitney Newey, whose son attends Midland Preschool.
Newey said she trusts her son’s bus driver and is grateful for the education her child is getting through the program but wants to see more reassurance from the district that it is working to keep children safe.
“It just feels a little unsettling that something like that could have happened,” Newey said. “It feels like protocols need to be readdressed. ... Just to hear nothing from the district is unsettling and doesn’t really make you feel safe sending the kids (to school).”
Findlay said the district was concerned about privacy because it “was an isolated incident regarding one student,” and the district determined in this case that privacy outweighed the necessity to notify parents of the occurrence.
The Hulberts, like Newey, are hoping the district will revisit some of its policies for bus drivers and consider putting in place new policies.
“None of these policy changes would have prevented what happened to our son that day,” Daniel Hulbert said. “(Bus drivers are) already supposed to be checking the bus, so making the school district say, ‘Now we really mean it that you should be checking the bus,’ doesn’t really mean anything.”
For the duration of time Miles Hulbert was alone on the bus, it was parked outside the driver’s private residence in West Haven. From Daniel and Janel Hulbert’s perspective, this further endangers children who may be left on a bus.
Daniel Hulbert said their son told them he had wanted to walk home but did not know where he was.
“Our son wasn’t able to exit the bus, but if he was able to he would have just been in some unfamiliar neighborhood and we wouldn’t have even known he was on the bus,” Daniel Hulbert said.
While the Hulberts acknowledged the district’s budget constraints, they also want it to look into purchasing a child-check safety device for each of its buses. These devices, placed at the rear of a bus, require drivers to walk to the back and push a button to disarm an alarm system before exiting the bus. All buses in the Davis School District are equipped with these devices.
Findlay said the district is not currently considering prohibiting bus drivers from parking their bus at home, but it has deliberated purchasing child-check safety devices. The price tag, however, is an issue. School districts are not fully funded by the state for transportation expenses, so the district would have to find space in its budget for the purchase.
Daniel and Janel Hulbert have begun taking Miles to a child therapist to address behavior changes they have seen since the incident. While the family is upset about what happened to their son, they also hope to prevent a similar incident from happening with worse outcomes.
Janel Hulbert is now surveying districts around the state regarding their busing policies to gauge where there is need for change at the state level. She, along with other mothers, is advocating for legislation to prevent children around the state from being left on buses.
“What does it take to make these changes happen?” she asked.